I'm a very, . . . lucky guy. I've got a lot going for me: I'm healthy, I'm relatively young, I'm white -- which, thank God for that . . .. That is a huge leg up. Are you kidding me? Oh, God, I love being white. I really do. Seriously, if you're not white, you're missing out. Because [being white] is thoroughly good.
Let me be clear, by the way. I'm not saying that white people are better. I'm saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue? If it was an option, I would re-up every year. "Oh, yeah, I'll take 'white' again, absolutely. I've been enjoying that. I'm gonna stick with white, thank you."
-- Louis C.K., "On Being White"
Laughter is one way of dealing with deep pain. Action is another.
"While the Iowa City Community School District . . . attempts to diversify its staff and create equitable environments for students, some experts say . . . the district might face barriers in recruiting minorities, making long-term cultural changes in classrooms and funding staff changes." Holly Hines, "Expert: Equity Plan a Postive, Challenging Step; Administrators, Teachers, National Official Discuss Elements of ICCSD Equity Proposal," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 9, 2015, p. A1.
To get a realistic sense of the potential "barriers" confronting our school district in this mission one needs a realistic understanding of racism in America. Not just racism 50 or 200 years ago, but racism yesterday, still today, and likely tomorrow -- racism everywhere.
As Brave New Films reports:
Thousands of resumes were mailed to employers. They were identical except for the names. Black-sounding names were 50% less likely to be called back."Racism is Real" promo, Brave New Films. [The promo closes with citations to its list of sources for these assertions.]
Black people are charged prices roughly $700 higher than white people when buying [the same] cars.
Multiple studies show black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over [for the same driving behavior].
Black clients are shown 17.7% fewer houses for sale.
Marijuana use is equal between blacks and whites. Yet black people are 4 times more likely to be arrested.
Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people.
Doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about an important heart procedure. [And see, Damon Tweedy, "The Case for Black Doctors," New York Times, May 17, 2015, p. SR1.]
White legislators did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names -- in both political parties.
If this isn't racism, what is? Racism isn't over.
For some more insight into the depths of what we're dealing with here -- both the causes and the cures -- see, Nicholas Kristof, "Our Biased Brains," New York Times, May 7, 2015, p. A29 (e.g., "In one study, 3-month-old white infants were shown photos of faces of white adults and black adults; they preferred the faces of whites. For 3-month-old black infants living in Africa, it was the reverse.")
(Ironically, Kristof continues, "Researchers find that in contrast to other groups, AfricanAmericans do not have an unconscious bias toward their own. From young children to adults, they are essentially neutral and favor neither whites nor blacks. [Harvard psychology professor Mahzarin] Banaji and other scholars suggest that this is because even young AfricanAmerican children somehow absorb the social construct that white skin is prestigious and that black skin isn’t. In one respect, that is unspeakably sad; in another, it’s a model of unconscious race neutrality.")
Apparently racism is prevalent from the time we are three months old, throughout every institution and aspect of our culture. It may even be embedded in our DNA. Can any Iowa City resident or School Board member deny that it may be involved to at least some degree in our discussions of school boundaries? Can President Obama's hate-filled opponents deny that racism may play at least some teeny-tiny role in their opposition to everything he advocates -- even policies they once proposed? (The Southern Poverty Law Center's annual measure of hate groups in the U.S. indicates that while their number ranged from 131 to 149 during 2001 to 2008, during President Obama's presidency, from 2010 through 2014, the number ranged from 824 to 1360.)
I am about as familiar as a white boy can be with the evil consequences of racism, as a result of spending most of the 1950s in Texas and throughout the South -- with a poll tax designed to further reduce blacks voting, black and white water fountains and restrooms, "No Colored" signs in restaurant and store windows, a lawsuit required to open a law school to blacks, and crosses burned in the yards of the federal judges for whom I worked in their efforts to right these wrongs.
Such experiences helped shaped my reaction as an F.C.C. commissioner upon discovering that the broadcasting industry the Commission was supposed to regulate "in the public interest" was one of, if not the, country's most racist and sexist. I pushed for, and the Commission achieved, increased employment of African-Americans and women in front of the cameras and in broadcast management.
I was made aware of my own color consciousness during the process of writing this. Taking a break to feed fish in a backyard pond, my eye caught the flashing lights of a parked police car. There was no indication that the African-American who had been stopped was being treated with anything other that the utmost civility and respect. And yet, given recent events, my initial wondering and concern for him caused me to question whether I would have been similarly apprehensive had he been white.
There's hope. As Nicholas Kristof reports:
[W]e can resist a predisposition for bias against other groups.I wish Iowa Law grad Kingsley Botchway good luck in his efforts working with the School District's administrators, faculty, staff and students. But the fact is, every single one of us has a lot of homework we need tending to when it comes to racism throughout America.
One strategy that works is seeing images of heroic African-Americans; afterward, whites and Asians show less bias, a study found. Likewise, hearing a story in which a black person rescues someone from a white assailant reduces anti-black bias in subsequent testing. It’s not clear how long this effect lasts.
Deep friendships, especially romantic relationships with someone of another race, also seem to mute bias — and that, too, has implications for bringing young people together to forge powerful friendships.
“If you actually have friendships across race lines, you probably have fewer biases,” Banaji says. “These are learned, so they can be unlearned.”